IT’S just as well there are only six games to go, because Newcastle United are in free-fall.
Their early season form is becoming more and more important as the weeks go by and even the passionate football folk on Tyneside must be begging to be put out of their misery for another campaign.
You really couldn’t blame them, either, especially the 2,187 who invested both time and money to make the 650- mile round trip to Southampton only to be served up a performance that came nowhere near to matching their loyal efforts.
Newcastle’s latest display inside a sun-soaked St Mary’s suggested many of Alan Pardew’s squad have already entered holiday mode and you have to wonder how many will be returning when the summer break concludes in July.
The Magpies are coming to a crossroads in their progression and Pardew has already spoken of the need to do “a lot of work” in the summer.
The Newcastle boss has met owner Mike Ashley to discuss their strategy in the transfer window, but if there was ever a performance to reaffirm the need to reinvest, this was it.
Ashley has shown a renewed interest of late and Saturday was the fourth consecutive match he has taken in from the stands.
Pardew, who was allowed back into the fold following his three-match stadium ban, joined him in the directors’ box and a friendly handshake prior to kick-off might have suggested there is finally a common ground on the need to strengthen.
Ashley’s directive to Pardew at the start of the season was a top-ten finish and they are still on course to achieve that, even if they might end up just scraping it.
Tenth-placed Stoke City are gaining ground and sit six points behind the Magpies.
Luckily there is a 12-point gap to West Ham in 11th.
Even if Pardew delivers, there are several issues that need to be addressed.
A team boasting several international players still looks as if it is coming to terms with the loss of an integral part of the dressing room, and a squad that has enjoyed a strong spirit and togetherness over the past few seasons appears to be showing cracks with arguments a familiar sight at St Mary’s.
On the field, there has been precious little evidence of a plan B without Yohan Cabaye pulling the strings in midfield, and the same can be said about Loic Remy with Newcastle having managed one goal in nine games without their top scorer. They’ve now failed to score in ten of their last 14.
Inevitable squad comparisons were made in the buildup to this game and it was the seven-strong English contingent in Southampton’s starting XI that prevailed over the Magpies, whose sole English representative was Mike Williamson.
Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriquez, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw led the way for Mauricio Pochettio’s side with the impressive attacking trio sharing four goals.
In a game dubbed “the battle for eighth place” there was only ever one team that looked up for the fight and the Magpies mustered only five attempts on goal compared to Saints’ 23.
In fact, such was the hosts’ domination, a scoreline of nine or ten-nil wouldn’t have flattered them. They don’t seem to be letting up, despite being in the same boat as the Magpies and having ‘nothing to play for’.
Pardew’s men sheepishly walked over to acknowledge their away support after the final whistle, but they were met by a barrage of boos and angry gestures.
“We understand the fans’ frustrations 100 per cent,” said Williamson, who alongside Rob Elliot was the only player to stop and talk to the press.
“I think anybody watching the game in the Newcastle end would have been disappointed, frustrated and angry – just as much as the players were. It’s frustrating and it hurts. For me personally I feel that more than anybody.
Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot shows his fruatration
“We just weren’t good enough and we have to take full responsibility for it. It was poor, but we can assure them we’ll be working harder than ever and make sure next week we put on a far better display and make sure we get back to doing the basics right.
“It’s always disappointing conceding goals, but we didn’t do our jobs all over the pitch.
It’s a tough pill to swallow but we need to react and we need to bounce back.
“You can talk about certain things in the game, but they were just quicker, sharper, more organised and looked like that from the first minute until the last.
“It was disappointing and it’s hard to reflect at a time like this.”
Had it not been for poor finishing and some impressive goalkeeping from Elliot, the game could have been over as early as the 13th minute.
Saints did find a way through on the stroke of half-time when Lambert squared for Rodriquez to tap in.
The second came three minutes after the restart and a double change for Newcastle.
Davide Santon, who had replaced the woeful Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, lost Lambert, who controlled before rifling into the roof of the net.
The imperious Lallana added a third with a thunderous 25-yard strike before Rodriquez broke to get his second and Saints’ fourth with a minute remaining.